14.2 C
New York
Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Meet the People Illustrating the Brutality of War in Ukraine

Paper Planes launched just days after Russia invaded Ukraine. An effort by filmmakers Alex Topaller and Dan Shapiro, it started as an attempt to connect artists displaced by the war with colleagues in the design, VFX, and production fields in Eastern Europe. The pair, heads of the US-based creative agency Aggressive, were originally looking to connect Ukrainian artists with friends in Warsaw, Poland, to help them get lodging and work. “But suddenly,” Topaller says, “we started getting messages from artists who needed work urgently but weren’t able to leave.”

Of all the messages they got, one in particular stood out—it was from a children’s book illustrator named Arina Panasovska, who was in the Russian-occupied city of Kherson and didn’t want to risk evacuation. (She has since left.) Topaller offered to send money, but she wanted work, not charity. “So I said, ‘OK, I’m going to commission 10 illustrations from you—it can be about anything,’ and that’s how Paper Planes Ukraine was born.”

As part of the relief project, they started an Instagram page—@paperplanes_ua—featuring work they'd commissioned from Ukrainian artists looking for jobs. For some of the artists, the project provides financial help at a time when it’s sorely needed; for others, it’s a way to cope. Ultimately, Topaller and Shapiro would like to expand and find more support for the works that have already been created for Paper Planes, via, say, exhibits or NFTs, but “our immediate goal is to light as many candles as possible in this onslaught of darkness,” Topaller says.

WIRED reached out to several artists and illustrators, many of whom have worked with Paper Planes, to ask about their experiences during the war. Here is what they said, along with some of the works they’ve created since Russia’s invasion.

These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tania Yakunova

Kyiv, Ukraine

WIRED: Tell us about the creation of this piece.

Tania Yakunova: In early April, when Kyiv’s suburbs were liberated from Russian troops, horrifying evidence began to appear. Murdered civilians, mass graves, raped women, and killed children. Survivors started to talk. It was shocking what Russians did to civilians in Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin, Borodyanka. Kyiv is my hometown. Russians were 15 kilometers away from my parent's house. I have many friends living in suburbs, beautiful, green family places. I was sick and cried all day. The next day I started to draw because it was the only way to let out my pain and anger.

What was your inspiration?

My illustration is not fiction; it is a collective image of several victims from Bucha: women whose charred naked bodies were found on the roadside. Russians raped and then tried to burn them, a woman who was raped in front of her little son’s eyes and her baby, who was then killed. And many others who lost their children, husbands, and their own lives.

Where are you based and/or where are you living and working now?

I spent some time traveling across Ukraine trying to find a safer place to stay and helping my parents to evacuate. Now they’re living in Europe and I’m back in Kyiv. I’m working from here and hoping that I won’t need to flee again (but I’m prepared for the worst scenarios).

Tell us a bit about how you're working now.

It was almost impossible to do anything during the first days of the war. You can’t fully prepare yourself for this kind of situation, although I was expecting the war to start for some time. It took me about two weeks to get myself together and start drawing again. For now, I’m in full working mode, sometimes distracted by sirens. It is still hard for me to concentrate for a long time and not check the news, but this is quite “normal” so I put up with it. It is interesting to observe how quickly you can adapt to such circumstances.

What are some of the challenges you're facing?

The main one is general uncertainty and fear. I’m not feeling safe anywhere; Russian shells are hitting all corners of my country and I can’t predict what the next day will bring. I’m trying to live day by day, but I’m ready to run and hide at any moment. The reality feels very surreal.

The other one I’ve mentioned before is air-raid sirens. They can happen several times per day, often at night. You can plan something, but then you have five hours of sirens, so you just go to the shelter. But I’m getting used to it. I made a small working place in my shelter so I can carry on working during the long air-raid threats.

Lina Maria

Vinnytsia, Ukraine

WIRED: Tell us about the creation of this piece.

Lina Maria: I live in Vinnytsia now. This is a city in central Ukraine, near Kyiv. It is relatively quiet and safe here, although there is no safe place in my country right now. So I am very impressed by the fact that I can now live a relatively normal life, and people living a 12-hour drive from my city, namely in Mariupol, are going through hell. Russian troops are destroying everything that my citizens love. And they are destroying Ukrainians. And it is a mystery to me why my city does not suffer so much. Why I am alive today. But I am alive today, and thousands of Ukrainians are dead. And because of this my life acquires such a great price that it is scary to imagine. The price is too high, but it's not me who decides what it is. This is the realization that formed the basis of my work.

Tell us a bit about how you're working now, considering the war.

The main thing, perhaps, is that now I don’t plan long-term projects because I do not know what will happen tomorrow and whether I will be alive tomorrow. I feel a lot of inspiration. I feel a spark inside me, and it can burst upon every moment. I think a lot about how I can be useful for Ukraine's victory. How art can help. That is why I am looking for various collaborations with foreign art institutions to sell and distribute my works there, and transfer the money to support my country. I am also more involved in educational activities. I hold workshops in the city where I live now. We create posters about what helps keep the light inside during this war. I think it is very important to capture what helps us now to love this life and see its beauty despite suffering and death.

What are some of the challenges you're facing?

The main challenge I face is a sense of danger, fear, and anxiety. But this is what every Ukrainian feels now. However, art helps me to cope with these experiences. When I'm scared, I make a poster about my fear and it gets easier. Therefore, these difficulties are a source of inspiration for me. There are also some financial difficulties because I am a graphic designer and now during the war these services are not in demand and it is harder to find customers. However, this does not frighten me, and often all sorts of limitations are a good incentive to create something new.

Ruslana Artemenko

Kyiv, Ukraine

WIRED: Tell us about the creation of this piece. What was your inspiration?

Ruslana Artemenko: My birthday is on March 6, right before International Women’s Day [March 8]. On March 4, my best friend, Anton, said he couldn’t stand aside and decided to go back to Ukraine to do volunteer work and help people. (We were in Krakow, Poland, then.) So he left right away. I was very upset, as you can imagine, because I didn’t want him to leave. I was afraid he may get injured or killed by Russians. But at the same time, of course, I couldn’t make him stay and I’m proud of him for being so brave and selfless.

So this idea came to me [to illustrate a] bouquet of bombs instead of flowers that the Russian army is presenting to women. Instead of getting flowers on my birthday and on March 8, this year I got a massacre on the news. Every woman in Ukraine got deaths and a lot of fear for their loved ones and themselves instead of presents and flowers. Oh, what a present from Putin to all of us.

Where are you living and working now?

At the moment, I’m in Warsaw. My mom evacuated here from Kyiv, so I’m with her. I travel between Warsaw and Lviv every now and then, to deliver some packages to the territory defense (where my dad is) and to bring back to Poland some of my friends' stuff to send them packages with their documents and important things. We are spread all over the world now, in different countries. I dream of the day when all of us will be back in the same city, in Kyiv, when it will be a safe place that we all love so much.

Tell us a bit about how you're working now, considering the war in Ukraine.

For the last four years, I worked for an American company, but two weeks ago I quit. It is very hard to work full-time right now because I get distracted by the news all day long. Everything work-related becomes so unimportant when someone who runs from an occupied region calls you and asks for a place to stay or some clothes for their kids or needs anything else. So I decided to quit and stay freelance for now.

[I had a] coworker who was from Moscow and I heard from her a few times that the massacres and bombings by Russian soldiers were fake, so I couldn’t really stay any longer; it was too painful and wrong for me to stay. I really do not want to deal with anything Russian right now, or with their brainwashed opinions.

I’m making interactive presentations now [using] Readymag. That’s my freelance. I have a small crew working with me, we’re called Awarded Design. What’s good here is that I can work any time of the day and take breaks when I need to help somebody, or just take a few days to pause when I can’t work. Thinking of war all the time makes me feel anxious about my future and awfully sad about all the people who sacrificed their lives and health (both physical and mental) for the freedom of Ukraine. I can’t stop thinking of people and kids who suffer every day. So yeah, sometimes I need to take breaks to get myself together, to be able to continue working.

What are some of the challenges you're facing?

To be honest, every day is a challenge. Those three seconds when you wake up and don’t yet remember about the war and all suffering, those three seconds are precious, but then you dive back to reality and try to do at least something, step by step. Get up, clean your teeth, open a laptop, and start every day with the hope your life will become the same again and your home will become a safe place.

Mariia Kinovych

Kyiv, Ukraine

WIRED: Tell us about the creation of this piece. What was your inspiration?

It is hard to name it an inspiration. From the very beginning of this war, we’ve all been shocked by how brutal the Russians are to children. They bombed schools, hospitals, and maternity houses. One official statistic said that 186 children were killed and more than 300 were heavily injured [in the first six weeks of the invasion]. And we still don't know how many exactly lost their homes and parents. Children in Ukraine are being deprived of the privilege of a normal childhood because of the violence they witnessed. My piece is about that moment when a little kid realizes that they won't come back to their carefree life.

Where are you based and/or where are you living/working now?

Originally I'm from Kyiv, but now I'm living with my relatives in Chernivtsi (western part of Ukraine).

Tell us a bit about how you're working now.

Sometimes I'm a complete mess; sometimes I'm productive. Reading news is very exhausting, but I can't stop doing it. I don't take commissions that are not related to the topic of war because I don't feel that I can draw anything else.

What are some of the challenges you're facing?

I guess we all in Ukraine are facing the basic challenge of surviving, mentally and physically. It is shocking how fast you forget how your normal life was and how hard it is to restore those pieces of normality again.

Maria Skliarova

Kharkiv, Ukraine

WIRED: Tell us about the creation of this piece. 

Maria Skliarova: This drawing is based on three photographs of one mass grave. I remember the shock when I saw the first footage from Bucha. We were all in shock. We couldn't look at these photos. We knew that terrible things were happening there, but we could not even imagine that they would be so wild, horrible. All night and the next day, I thought about these hands and legs, which randomly stuck out from under the sand.

I drew this illustration in a row after the picture with the graves of Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel. I had a feeling that I just had to draw exactly that, no matter how horrid it looked. Perhaps it was a way to accept these atrocities and express how hurt I was by what was happening.

Where are you based and/or where are you living and working now?

I lived in Kharkiv all my life, but it’s a hot spot now. That’s not an exaggeration; the city is bombed by artillery 60-80 times a day. Recently, shells on parachutes began to fall on Kharkiv. My husband and I were able to drive to the neighboring big city—Poltava. But this still does not guarantee safety from being hit by a rocket they send from Russia's territory. The Poltava region was bombed about three times and Poltava once. Nowhere in Ukraine is safe now.

Tell us a bit about how you're working now.

It's very difficult. For the first two weeks, we slept in the basement or on the floor in the hallway, under constant shelling. There are many wounded, dead people and battered houses in our district. At that time, I was working on one big project—a book cover—and on the first day of the war, the art director wrote to me and said that they understand everything and that I [may not be able to work]. Because we were constantly shelled and sitting in the basement for about 20 hours out of 24, we tried to conserve charge on our phones. I managed to draw a little in those rare moments when I was home. For some reason, drawing for work was easier for me than drawing for myself. I approached this responsibly, I have done all the work tasks I needed to. It was a way to stabilize myself, an opportunity to concentrate my thoughts on something other than war. Drawing for myself was a tough reflection, and there was no strength for it—I felt inner numbness, I had nothing to say, I was terrified of reality. None of us knew if we would be alive tomorrow.

Now I am in conditional safety, but I have had insomnia for the second month due to stress. Every day I read the news. My parents stayed in Kharkiv. I worry all the time. But work is work, and people won't wait for me to sleep or to stop worrying. So I just sit down and do what I have to. I don't work on any personal projects; there is no strength for them. If a new personal drawing has appeared, it means that either I have a day off or have read some news after which I cannot be silent.

What are some of the challenges you're facing?

Living in Ukraine now is a complete challenge. The biggest fear was when fighter jets started flying over us. You can't confuse this sound with anything; everything inside trembles from it. We were hiding, and I managed to write a message to my mother that there was a fighter jet above us. She answered me a few minutes later that now it was over their house, too, and then that it had dropped the bomb not far away.

Every day we are grateful to our army that we were able to sleep in silence this night, but then you realize that this silence is given at the cost of someone else's life. We are now working and living for everyone. Those who can, do volunteer work; those who can work, they boost our country's economy. I spend a large percentage of my salary on donations to our army fund. Because the extra $100 is an opportunity to buy medicines, antiseptics, new body armor, so many important things that save lives. Everyone has their own front now. Everyone does what they can, what they are capable of. I'm drawing outside of work to provide informational support to Ukraine. Everyone has their own struggle.

Irina Zarubina

Kharkiv, Ukraine

WIRED: Tell us about the creation of this piece. What was your inspiration?

Irina Zarubina: This picture was created after Russian soldiers burned a stable with live horses in Gostomel. It left an impression on me—innocent animals and fire. Absolutely brutal murder. I looked at the sky, and clouds floated there, as if there is no war in my country right now. Then I saw the shape of a horse in the cloud, and this led me to the image of the illustration: a cloud of smoke and the spirit of a horse.

Where are you based and/or where are you living/working now?

I was born and lived all my life in Kharkiv. On February 24, my husband and I woke up from the sounds of explosions. After a few weeks of shelling, we decided to try to leave because I needed medicine (heart problems began, due to stress), and it was impossible to get them there at that moment. The road was not easy, but now I am in Lviv. Unfortunately, when I ran away from Kharkiv, I forgot to take a work laptop and a graphics tablet, on which I draw. But I took an iPad, and now it's my main working tool. I draw on it and do whatever it takes.

What are some of the challenges you're facing?

I feel very lucky now—a lot of other people are suffering from the war much harder than I am. However, I can't rejoice in this luck. Now life consists of work, reading the news, trying to help others who are suffering from the Russian attack. And sirens. Even when they are not there, it seems to you that the siren still sounds.


More Great WIRED Stories📩 The latest on tech, science, and more: Get our newsletters!Sober influencers and the end of alcoholFor mRNA, Covid vaccines are just the beginningThe future of the web is AI-generated marketing copyKeep your home connected with the best wi-fi routersHow to limit who can contact you on Instagram👁️ Explore AI like never before with our new database🏃🏽‍♀️ Want the best tools to get healthy? Check out our Gear team’s picks for the best fitness trackers, running gear (including shoes and socks), and best headphones

Related Articles

Latest Articles